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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Furries ring the changes
Album cover of new Super Furry Animals album
Super Furry Animals break new ground with DVD
By BBC News Online's Nigel Packer

At first sight the Super Furry Animals are an unlikely band of high-tech pioneers.

After all, this is the group which knocked out their last album - the Welsh-language Mwng - for a trifling 6,000.

Yet here they are with one of the year's most ambitious projects - an album which is being released simultaneously on audio and DVD formats, supposedly a first for a band.

For the first time since the demise of Creation, a major label is behind them.

The group have commissioned their favourite artists and film-makers to put together some dazzling visuals to accompany each of the 13 tracks on the DVD.

Yet beneath the big budget lurks something more substantial - the landmark album they have been threatening to make all these years.

DVD artwork
Psychedelic animation accompanies some tracks
SFA have always been bursting with quirky (sometimes brilliant) ideas, yet here they squeeze them into a more accessible format.

The result is an album of scope, imagination, and some killer pop tunes - which should propel the Cardiff quintet from cult favourites to bona fide headliners in a single stroke.

It doesn't mark a radical change of direction, more a fulfilling of potential, as they search out hidden depths with the help of co-producer Chris Shaw and surround sound technology.

Lush string arrangements and Bacharach-style puffs of trumpet stand alongside fuzzy guitars and bouts of electronic wizardry.

And singer Gruff Rhys's lyrical interests prove to be equally broad-ranging, as he vents his feelings on politicians, pollution and extreme sports (he is not a fan of any of them, by the way).

Alternate Route To Vulcan Street is a wonderfully relaxed opener, with its slack piano chords and slow-motion drums. It is matched by some simple but effective cut-out animation from Cardiff artist Darren Watkins.

At times the group are clearly having a ball, as they trawl through pop history in search of some unlikely alliances.

Ever wondered what would happen if you mixed the fresh-faced harmonies of the early Beach Boys with the lunar grunge of Hawkwind? The answer lies in the album's hugely infectious title track.

Receptacle For The Respectable, meanwhile, mutates from sunny harmonica-tinged pop into the kind of acid nightmare which could give Marilyn Manson the creeps.

Even Sir Paul McCartney pops up at one point to provide what Gruff describes as a "celery and carrot rhythm track". Yup, it's that kind of song.

This ability to turn a tune on its head is also utilised on No Sympathy, an acoustic yarn which explodes into a high-speed finale of mangled electronics.

Elsewhere, the prairie-sized country ballad Run, Christian Run takes a swipe at religious hypocrisy, and Gruff gets to live out his Engelbert Humperdinck fantasies on the easy listening melodrama It's Not The End Of The World.

After the home-spun charms of their previous work, the multimedia feast that is Rings Around The World occasionally threatens to overload the senses.

The DVD proves to be as diverse visually as the album is musically, with styles ranging from slick travelogues to garish psychedelic cartoons.

But if some of the visuals enhance the songs they accompany, others only seem to restrict them.

Whatever the advances in technology, it seems that music is sometimes better left alone to paint its own pictures.

Rings Around the World is released on 23 July (Epic)

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